Trevor Jones, newly elected national secretary of the Welsh Communist Party, says that local government reform is an opportunity to renew democracy - writing in the Morning Star.

On Monday (20.1.14) the long awaited Williams Report on Public Service Governance and Delivery was published recommending potentially huge changes in the way in which public services in Wales will be run.

Most of the media attention has focused on the proposed re-organisation of local authorities in Wales, and in particular the potential costs and risks associated with this proposal.

The game is on and the clock is ticking . It is now vital that the trade union movement, peoples assemblies and others on the left shout loudly enough to ensure their influence on the new structures.

In much publicized evidence to the Williams Commission the Welsh Local Government Association (who represent local authorities as employers) assessed the potential cost of re-organisation at £200 million with potentially 15,000 jobs lost.

This alarming estimate is based on the experience of local government re-organisation in England, but to assume that change in Wales must automatically proceed in the same manner is unnecessarily defeatist.

There are clearly substantial risks here but the left and trade union movement need to approach these with radical self confidence.

Opposition to job losses, and the inevitable reduction in service that they would lead to,needs to be a priority of our campaigns.

We clearly need to unite behind Unison's call for transitional costs to be met from a separate finance arrangement through the Welsh Government and not taken from local authorities operational budgets.

A Wales wide local government staff commission (with significant trade union input) is also needed to ensure: staff are treated consistently and fairly.

But these are necessary defensive tactics.

The left must also keep track of the opportunities public service reform offers in the Welsh context.

It is vital that the left succeed in transforming, the Welsh Government's timid resistance to the austerity agenda, into a radical alternative to the pervasive neo-liberal model.

The Commission's report recognises: 'the choice becomes either one of prolonged and ultimately unsustainable cuts to front line jobs and services; or investing in a reformed structure which will yield significant long-term savings and so mitigate the need for service cuts.

"In our view that is no choice at all: it is infinitely preferable to invest in a public sector that is fit for the future and to protect front-line jobs and services than to allow public services to decay and decline to the point of failure.'

Let's seize upon this, and attack those Chief Executives and local authority managers who have gone along with the austerity mantra.

At the time of the previous re-organisation, in the 1990s, Unison and other trade unions substantially criticised the unsustainable structure of 22 local authorities.

It is right that they should change. In the communist party we have called for the top heavy 22 replicated bureaucracies to be replaced.

We called for larger local councils alongside an extension of democracy at a neighbourhood level with the introduction of community democracy.

The report's vague discussion of role of Town and Community Councils may not be earth shattering or indeed radical at all but they do open up the debate about the potential extension of grass roots democracy.

The Communist Party have proposed community parliaments.

Under the proposal Councillors for local authorities would be elected for the specific community parliament area and be subject to recall (to account for their actions) if a 2/3rds majority of the parliament were so minded.

The parliament (if thus dissatisfied with the work of the local councillor) could then call a local election for that councillor's seat.

Now is the time for this, and other progressive proposals to be aired in the public domain.

In particular, we have an opportunity to shape a new public service, under public ownership, with decent pay and terms and conditions for workers and flexible decision making responsive to local grass roots democratic pressure.

If the trade union and peoples assembly movements can seize the opportunity there are real reasons for optimism.

In establishing the Commission Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones stated:
'Public services must remain public. Their value lies in their universal availability, and in the potential for public organisations, including the third sector, to work together to improve the wellbeing of citizens and communities.

"We cannot leave that to the market. If we turned public services into commodities, provided them competitively and allocated them according to ability to pay, we would destroy what we have sought to preserve. That is not on my agenda'

It is not our agenda either.

It is vital that we ensure these principles are not lost in the implementation of the reforms. This will only be possible if the campaign for an alternative to the neo-liberal model is dramatically ramped up.

Progressive Labour politicians will not hold their nerve without mass pressure from the grass roots of the community and trade union movement.

Local authority managers will continue to fall back on the new orthodoxy of austerity and privatisation unless the workforce and and the electorate publicly and decisively oppose them.

Now is the time to organise!